Ask Bill

As answered by Bill Mondjack, EAS Certified Master Beekeeper –

Not all beekeepers work their colonies the same way. Anyone who has worked with me in the past knows that I do not do things by the book; I do what works for me. So when I answer a question I like to pass along my thoughts on what I would do if the situation in question happened to me.

Q– Joe is having knee replacement surgery so we’re not able to attend meetings. He is concerned about our bees wintering well and thinking about drilling a small hole in the top deep on each hive (he read about it for circulation and prevention of freezing). What is your advice?

Bill’s Answer

My opinion is: “It can’t hurt” BUT I always think how honey bees live in nature, usually in the hollowed center of a tree. In a tree there is usually only one entrance hole and the bees seem to do very well. Inside the tree the colony is surrounded by a “pithy” wood, which absorbs the moisture given off by the bees’ respiration. The colony is also well insulated compared to our domestic bee hives. In our man-made domestic beehives with less insulation around and above the bees cluster the moisture hits the inner cover (which is in direct contact with the outer cover) and condenses, dripping down on the cluster causing stress and most like causing the cluster to freeze. An upper entrance or ventilation hole will help exhaust the warm moist air and help avoid condensation on the inner cover. My thought is to provide a better environment for the bees we keep. I like to place some insulation between the inner and outer cover. I’ve been using Styrofoam insulation board, about .” thick. Instead of drilling holes in my hive bodies and supers I prop my outer cover up about a ó” with a small stick or stone for an added bit of ventilation.

Q– Could I trouble you for your thoughts about a bee question? I noticed that the snowstorm has covered the entranceway to our hives. They still have the top hole for air but the snow covering the bottom entranceway will block circulation. Given the low temperatures, is it better to just let the bottom remain blocked by the snow to hold in the warmth? Your thoughts . . .

Bill’s Answer

You have a very good question and I don’t know that I can give you the perfect answer but I’m sure many beekeepers lie in bed during a Winter storm and think about the same thing. I’ve seen this happen to my hives over the years and on some of them I’ve seen a small gap in the snow at the entrance. I don’t know if the air circulation opened it or not, and on many of mine the snow is just piled up on the bottom entrance and I’ve left it like that with no ill effects. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about the lack of air circulation due to snow on the bottom entrance. I haven’t experienced any losses due to snow covered bottom entrances, of course many of my hives have damaged corners from using my hive tool to pry them apart so there are always some extra entrances or air gaps for added ventilation. To answer your question: “Is it better to just let the bottom remain blocked by the snow to hold in the warmth?” I would not recommend leaving a bottom entrance blocked but I don’t think snow is completely air tight, ice is another matter. I’ve seen a bottom entrance closed by melting snow freezing into ice but my bees still had other entrances/ exits to access through worn corners of supers and hive bodies. Some beekeepers choose to reduce the entrance size; I leave my hive entrances wide open all year long.


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